James Rothwell, Telegraph, May 11 2019
In the dense forests of Finland, a hulking creature with glowing red skin crawls out of the earth and races towards parliament.
The monster hijacks a limousine containing Finland’s top ministers — who have abruptly stopped drinking cocktails and throwing fistfuls of cash over their female escorts — and drives them half-insane with remorse and fear.
This is no Hollywood horror film, but a scene in the latest political advert from the Finns Party, the nationalist, anti-EU group that has lit a firecracker under Finland’s usually docile political scene.
Finland is supposedly the happiest nation in the world — at least according to several surveys — with a coveted welfare system, globally renowned schools, stunning lakes and a sauna in every second home.
But in this May’s European elections, one recent poll suggests the Finns, with their fierce rhetoric against mass migration and Brussels rule, are set to become the country’s most popular party.
Sitting in Finland’s parliament building, a giant neo-classical structure with imposing stone steps built in 1926, the Finns’ deputy chairman Laura Huhtasaari suddenly becomes animated when asked why she is so angry about the state of politics.
“It’s all about greed, power and money. Finland and the EU is weak on crime, weak on borders, weak on protecting nation states. They [mainstream politicians] just let this happen and it’s terrible… I want my country back.”
The surge in support for the Finns, which won 17.5 per cent of the vote in last April’s national election, just a whisker behind the centre-left Social Democratic party, reveals how even Europe’s most stable countries are not immune from populist fury.
And the same story is unfolding across the Nordic countries, with the Sweden Democrats and the Danish People’s Party enjoying steady gains in the polls by capitalising on the same anxieties about immigration and EU integration.
Finland sits on the northeastern frontier of the EU, seemingly isolated from the turmoil of the refugee crisis that saw the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers.
While Germany welcomed around 800,000 asylum seekers at the peak of the crisis, and Sweden accepted more than 100,000, Finland received only 30,000.
But in a country of 5.5m people, where immigrants were once a rare sight, the presence of North African and Middle Eastern Men — a minority of whom are facing charges for a spate of sex attacks in the northern city of Oulu — has left many Finns feeling overwhelmed.
“In some parts of Helsinki, you think you are in Mogadishu,” adds Ms Huhtasaari, who fears that her grandchildren will end up living in an “Islamic state.”
For the Finns, the blame lies squarely at the feet of the EU and centrist political leaders who “often make decisions against Finnish interests to please the Europeans.”
The party is calling for a radical downgrading of the EU, stripping away the Euro, free movement of workers, the passport-free Schengen zone and political integration in favour of a basic trading bloc.
It is also set to join a populist alliance in the European parliament, led by Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, which aims to reassert national powers in Brussels.
Or, as Ms Huhtasaari puts it: “It’s payback time. We have to unite with the patriotic parties so we can start tearing the EU apart.”
The economy of Finland, the only Nordic EU country to adopt the Euro, is growing steadily, while unemployment is at just six per cent compared to 13 percent in Spain and 18 per cent in Greece.
But some in this fiercely independent country, which fought valiantly in -40C temperatures against Russian invaders in 1939’s Winter War, are concerned about being shackled to the economic turmoil unfolding in southern Europe.
“The euro is becoming a debt union which means we are responsible for others,” says Olli Kotro, another Finns MEP candidate.
“It would be fair to create an exit mechanism for the euro — Article 50 of the euro if you want to put it that way — so there’s a way to get off the boat before it sinks.”
“The problem is all the other parties,” he sighs, “they are so fanatical they would give the last penny for the euro.”
However, much like the other Nordic parties, there are limits to the Finns’ eurosceptic fervour.
Following Britain out of the EU would be “politically stupid,” admits Finns policy chief Riikka Purra, “because there is more and support for the EU, though I don’t know why — perhaps they don’t know what it does.”
This follows the Sweden Democrats’ decision to scuttle a referendum pledge in last September’s elections for a “Swexit” referendum, which party officials said was linked to the UK’s shaky performance in negotiations with Brussels.
The Finns Party is not without controversy, either, and has faced accusations of racism.
The same advert featuring the politician-terrorising monster includes a scene where dark-skinned men reach from the shadows to kidnap — and implicitly rape — a young white woman.
The party’s leader, Jussi Halla-aho, described Islam in a 2008 blog post as a “totalitarian fascist ideology” which turns a blind eye to peadophili, while several candidates have convictions for hate speech.
The Finns gleefully jump on police statistics showing that from 2017-2018, foreigners committed 25 per cent of sex crimes in the countrydespite making up less than five per cent of the population.
Support for the Finns is strong in the northern coastal city of Oulu, where the party has been quick to capitalise on a the trial of eight men from the Middle East and North Africa accused of the rape and sexual assault of 29 victims.
The suspects were allegedly grooming girls on social media and at a shopping centre in central Oulu, in some cases plying their victims with gifts, cigarettes and alcohol.
But critics say the Finns are exploiting racial tensions for their own political gain, a tactic borrowed from the divisive campaigns of Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini.
Locals say the city council ignored them when they tried to raise the alarm about the men last year, and that the issue was only taken seriously once the police investigation provoked national media interest.
“Police had denied initially there was such a phenomenon going on,” says 30-year-old Sebastian Tynkkynen, who grew up in Oulu and is now standing as a Finns MEP.
“Once the cases came out, they sent out a statement warning parents that in fact it was, and that parents needed to talk to their children about it and monitor their social media.
“It was a 180 degree change, and it reminds me so much of the Rotherham case,” he adds.
Even Finland’s centrist, “establishment” politicians agree that there has been a failure to take voters’ concerns seriously.
Par Stenback, who served as Finland’s education minister and then foreign minister, says a tendency towards large, unwieldy coalitions with muted appetite for reform is turning people off traditional politicians in droves.
“The main factor is not so much the success of the populists but the failure of the mainstream politicians,” he says.
“There has been a fragmentation of politics…we had one coalition of six parties and it was hopeless.
“At the same time EU policy has not really changed, while Finland was not prepared for the increase in migration…we were used to closed borders.”
Back in Oulu, Mr Tynkkynen is strolling through the suburbs where he grew up. Passing through Rajakylan, which now hosts a high number of asylum seekers, he complains that his home looks more and more “like Mogadishu.”
“Closing the border always sounds harsh, but Europe is way too insecure and we need to be responsible.”
“If things stabilise, in maybe ten years, then we can go back and renegotiate opening borders.”